Learn to make Miller Union’s sour cream coffee cake with in-season pecans

Sour Cream Pecan Coffee Cake from Miller Union pastry chef Pamela Moxley. STYLING BY PAMELA MOXLEY CONTRIBUTED BY ADRIENNE HARRIS

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Sour Cream Pecan Coffee Cake from Miller Union pastry chef Pamela Moxley. STYLING BY PAMELA MOXLEY CONTRIBUTED BY ADRIENNE HARRIS

Pecans are the quintessential Southern nut. Delicious. Prolific. Ubiquitous.

Pecan trees grow across the southern United States from California to Georgia but Georgia is the nation’s leading producer of pecans. Most of Georgia’s pecans grow in the central area of the state and Dougherty County and the city of Albany lay claim to being the “pecan capital of the world.”

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But Georgia grows pecans from Valdosta to Ringgold. Mark Capps and Lynn Teddlie of Straight from the Backyard Farm purchased 5 acres of land in Loganville. Their purchase included about 40 pecan trees, some that Capps estimates may be 200 years old. “Most are probably between 60 and 70 years old and they are really producing. Someone originally planted Stuart and Elliot pecan trees on terraces so they could farm around them. The trees that popped up outside the terraces are probably seedlings that the former owners left to grow on.”

Capps says the biggest pest in growing pecans are pecan weevils, a tiny pest that begins to emerge from the soil in August and attacks the nuts. “They come out of the ground and fly up to the side of the tree, typically about five or six feet off the ground. Then they climb the rest of the way up and bore into the husk of the pecans. They haven’t been as much of a problem this year because it was so dry. They need wet ground to emerge.”

He’s heard of farmers who back in the 1960s and ’70s would wrap burlap sacks around their tree trunks, about 6 or 7 feet up the trunks, and spray the burlap with poison. The poison would get the weevils when they first jumped onto the trunks. “Or in the 1970s they’d wrap the tree with sticky tape up to six or seven feet off the ground and then peel it off after the weevils had all emerged.”

He’s been studying the different pecan varieties. “The Elliot is a smaller pecan with a higher fat content. You’ll get maybe 80 or 90 halves to a pound. The Stuart is larger with maybe 50 to 60 halves per pound. Both varieties bear in alternate years. So one year a tree will have hardly any nuts and the next year it will be loaded. That’s because they go through a lot of carbohydrates to make those nuts and they have to build up their reserves for another crop.”

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Shelling pecans is quite a job. “Most commercial pecans are mechanically cracked but you have to sort them by size or the big ones won’t get cracked and the smaller ones will be pulverized. We don’t harvest enough to make that worthwhile. But we’ve got access to a pneumatic cracker where high pressure air explodes the shell off. It still leaves some in the shell, but the nuts aren’t destroyed. Then comes the hand work, prying out the nuts and getting rid of the bits of shell. It’s hours and hours of hands-on work.”

The pecan trees on their property had been neglected over the years. Now Capps and Teddlie are looking into irrigation, liming, maybe adding some zinc to the soil. “These are big established trees. I think we’re going to do some pruning this winter. When pecans are grown commercially, the farmers shake off some of the growing nuts, maybe 20 to 30 percent, so the rest of the nuts grow larger. We’ll do something similar with our pruning.

In the meantime, the farm has shelled pecans available at the Saturday morning Marietta Square Farmers Market. Since there’s so much hand work involved, the quantity they bring each week varies, so get there early if you want to be sure to get your hands on some.

AT LOCAL FARMERS MARKETS

For sale

Just appearing at local markets: cauliflower, green onions, kalette

Vegetables, fruit and nuts: apples, arugula, Asian greens, beets, broccoli, broccoli raab, cabbage, carrots, chard, collards, cornmeal, endive, escarole, fennel, frisee, garlic, ginger, grits, herbs, kale, leeks, lettuce, microgreens, mushrooms, mustard greens, Napa cabbage, pecans, peppers, polenta, radicchio, radishes, rutabagas, spinach, sweet potatoes, turmeric, turnips, winter squash — From local reports

Sour Cream Coffee Cake

Pamela Moxley, Miller Union’s pastry chef, inherited this recipe from her mother. Her mom used black walnuts which are native to Massachusetts, a few hours from where Moxley grew up in New Hampshire. She remembers cracking a lot of walnuts around the holidays for her mom’s baking.

In sharing the recipe, she wrote, “At Miller Union, we get our pecans directly from Pearson Farms, a five-generation family farm in Crawford County. I like using pecans in this recipe, as opposed to the walnuts because they are local, support a family farm and are the best pecans I have ever had. They are sweet and buttery, packed with flavor and very good even when they are eaten raw.”

Moxley bakes the cake in a 10-inch cake pan. If you don’t have one of those in your baking arsenal, a 10-inch springform pan will work just as well.

1 cup chopped pecans

1/2 cup lightly packed light brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 pound unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for dotting top of coffee cake

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup sour cream

3 eggs, separated

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

Butter for dotting on top

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease a 10-inch cake pan.

While oven is preheating, arrange pecans on a baking sheet and toast until fragrant and just turning brown. Remove from oven and chop.

In a small bowl, combine pecans, brown sugar and cinnamon. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add sour cream and egg yolks and beat well. Remove bowl from mixer.

Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Whisk in sifted flour mixture until just combined.

In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until they form stiff peaks and then fold into cake batter. Place about half the batter into prepared cake pan and sprinkle with half the nut filling. Pour the rest of batter on top and top with remaining nut filling. Dot the top with butter and bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes or until cake is cooked through. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack a few minutes before serving. Serves: 12

Per serving: 386 calories (percent of calories from fat, 64), 4 grams protein, 31 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 28 grams fat (14 grams saturated), 106 milligrams cholesterol, 232 milligrams sodium.

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